By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Sep 13, 2012 at 11:19 AM

I attended a networking event at Mozzaluna, 17700 W. Capitol Dr., at the end of July. If you're trying to picture the location, it's in the former Mr. B's Steakhouse (before its recent move).

In the back room was a spread of meatballs, pasta, cheese and sausage trays, and assorted pizzas. I started nibbling and my taste buds perked up. "Hey Rick, we might be on to something here," they said.

The meatballs and the cheese tortelloni in alfredo sauce were delicious, but what really got my attention was the pizza. It wasn't the thin, cracker crust I prefer, but all of the other elements were there, in addition to new, delicious elements I wasn't expecting. I had to learn more about this pizza!

I tracked down one of the networking event organizers and asked to meet the owner. He introduced me to Phil LeClair. LeClair is a structural engineer by trade, but often thought of opening a restaurant. After talking with another engineer who was having success with a restaurant franchise, he decided to take the next steps.

One of those steps was finding a chef that shared the same values and concepts that LeClair was looking for. He eventually met Alfredo D'Amato, an aspiring up-and-comer who spent time cooking in various kitchens, such as Mimma's Café. When I heard that, it all made sense. I'm a big fan of Mimma's, so this chef had instant "street cred" with me.

LeClair was a very gracious and appreciative host. He gave me a tour of the kitchen and introduced me to Chef Alfredo, who hails from Sicily. They explained that all of the ingredients for the pizzas are imported from Italy, and all sauces for the pizzas and pastas are made from scratch daily. I loved what I was hearing so far.

D'Amato showed me the wood-burning brick oven where the pizzas are made. Maybe it was a radio, but I'm pretty sure I heard angels singing. The oven heats up to 700 degrees, so the pizzas cook quickly. As a result, you won't find pepperoni on the menu because the heat would dry it out. Instead, they use sopressata, a spicy Italian salami. Don't worry pepperoni lovers, sopressata makes for a great substitute!

The sopressata explains one of the new flavor elements I mentioned earlier. The other element I was surprised by was the crust – a light crispness throughout while also chewy. This crust was very similar to a properly made New York-style crust. The house-made tomato sauce added a layer of delicious freshness. Throw in the cheese and any of the other toppings and you get a symphony of flavors.

There are 16 different specialty pizzas to choose from. All of the pizzas come on house-made 12-inch crusts and range in price from the $7.99 Margherita to the $12.99 Mozzaluna with sliced tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma (a dry-cured, uncooked Italian ham), arugula and shaved parmesan. There is also a Bambino for $4.99, described as a "fun shaped pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella."

My favorite pizza is the Diavola, with chunks of Italian sausage, sopressata and red pepper flakes. For those who do not like spicy foods, it's not as spicy as you might think. The red pepper flakes add another dimension of flavor. A bite of this pizza made me close my eyes and chew slowly in bliss.

Recently, Mozzaluna has added a gluten-free crust option that is available for a small upcharge on all pizzas. They are also still trying to find the right gluten-free pasta. If you weren't already impressed, you can also upgrade your pizza from the standard mozzarella to fresh sliced mozzarella instead!

Other menu items include appetizers, soups, salads, panini, pastas and a burger (for the least adventurous person in your group).

Phil's wife, Barb, has recently joined him in managing the business and has also added her touches to the menu, such as their cranberry walnut salad. They continue to find ways to improve and are working on revamping their website.

Mozzaluna has been open since May and is seeing an increase in business, including a loyal following of local Italian Americans, which is a good sign for an Italian restaurant. They seem to appreciate the authenticity and passion that Chef Alfredo brings to the food he prepares. I know I do!

Rick Rodriguez Special to
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and I plan to stay in Milwaukee forever. I'm the oldest of three children and grew up in the Riverwest neighborhood. My family still lives in the same Riverwest house since 1971.

I graduated from Rufus King High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a business degree.

My true passion for Milwaukee probably started after I joined the Young Professionals of Milwaukee (now called FUEL Milwaukee) which just celebrated its one year anniversary at the time. The events that I attended, and sometimes organized, really opened my eyes to what Milwaukee had to offer, as well as its potential for the future. So for the past, present, and future FUEL Milwaukee corporate sponsors out there, that organization does produce results (editorial)!

I love all of the Milwaukee Sports teams, professional and amateur. I love the Milwaukee arts scene and all of the festivals. I love that you can find a free concert in the summer just about every day of the week. I love the various neighborhoods around the Milwaukee area and the unique characteristics that they offer. I love the people who take the time to tell us about those unique characteristics. I have to hold my breath and count to ten when someone tells me that there is nothing to do in Milwaukee. Then I prove them wrong.

Most of all, I love the Milwaukee dining scene. I love how it continues to evolve with modern dishes and new trends while the classic restaurants continue to remind us that great food doesn't have to be "fancy schmancy." However, I also love the chefs that create the "fancy schmancy" dishes and continue to challenge themselves and Milwaukee diners with dishes we've never seen before.

Our media provides attention to the new restaurants, which is great, but I don't like seeing the older great restaurants close their doors (Don Quijote, African Hut) because they've been forgotten, so I try to do my part to let Milwaukeeans know that they're still out there, too. I do that through social media, online reviews, and a dinner club I run for my friends, where we visit restaurants they haven't heard of before or try ethnic cuisine they haven't had before.

My dream is that one day I can mention a great experience in Milwaukee and not have someone respond with "have you been to Chicago?" I don't like those people very much.